There's a bit of significance in today's date. Oscar voting officially begins and for the second straight year they're going with an electronic voting system. Members of the Academy will be eligible to make their selections in every race until Weds, January 8th. At that point, the votes will be collected and organized over the course of the next week, just in time to make the first official Oscar Nominations announcement on Thursday, January 16th. So now that we understand the process and some key dates along the way, let's examine the 6 major races.
Stone Cold Locks: It feels safe to say that 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle and Gravity are all destined to reach the final field of Best Picture combatants. This 3-headed monster could end up battling it out until the very end.
Safe Bets: At this point the next tiered group of films that you can expect to see in the Best Picture pool are comprised of some Oscar regulars from Alexander Payne's Nebraska and the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis. Another feature that won't seem to fade away is Captain Phillips, which feels like a strong second rate contender that will definitely find its way into the field.
In the Mix: With at most 10 nominees allowed in the race, the remaining spots expect to be made up of newcomer wild cards Her and The Wolf of Wall Street, or other conventional possibilities such as Dallas Buyers Club and Saving Mr. Banks.
Long-Shots: Blue Jasmine, Philomena, late-year release Lone Survivor and Lee Daniels' The Butler all have an outside chance of sneaking into the the big dance.
Stone Cold Locks: There's really only two directors you can count on making it into the final race, they are Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity). The rest are, as they say in politics, "too close to call".
In the Mix: The Best Director field is awfully crowded this year and it wouldn't feel like a shock to see any of Alexander Payne (Nebraska), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), Spike Jonze (Her), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis) rounding out the top 5.
Long-Shots: Although they seem to be against all odds, there's the slimmest of chances that any of Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks), Lee Daniels (Lee Daniels' The Butler) and J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost) could weasel their way into the race.
Stone Cold Locks: There appears to be a trio of lead acting performances that you can bet the farm on making it to the final five. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Bruce Dern (Nebraska) all solidify a stranglehold atop the Best Actor competition.
In the Mix: The next tier of actors are made up of strong performances that have been acknowledged by all different types of precursors, and we still can't get a handle on who has the inside track to sneak into the final five. Chances are it will be any of Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Robert Redford (All Is Lost) and Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels' The Butler)
Long-Shots: Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Christian Bale (American Hustle) and Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) feel a little less like long-shots and more so right on the heels of the Hanks, Redford and Whitaker class.
Stone Cold Locks: While there's quite a bit of intrigue surrounding most of the Oscar races, Best Actress certainly isn't one of them. The pool of 5 is seemingly set with Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County) and Judi Dench (Philomena).
Long-Shots: The only possible threats of dethroning the top 5 are a personal favorite of mine in Brie Larson (Short Term 12), Amy Adams (American Hustle), Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color) and Julie Delpy (Before Midnight).
Best Supporting Actor
Stone Cold Locks: The Best Supporting Actor contest is shaping up as a slug-fest between Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club).
In the Mix: With only 3 remaining spots, it's still too early to count out supporting roles from Daniel Bruhl (Rush), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) and an always difficult to overcome posthumous performance from James Gandolfini (Enough Said).
Long-Shots: As the darkest of horses with the tiniest outside chance of having their names called, I'll still mention Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks) and Will Forte (Nebraska).
Best Supporting Actress
Stone Cold Locks: While I feel a little less secure calling them "locks" in the Best Supporting Actress race, the pool of 5 appears to be set. It's fair to say that anything less than a competition between Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave), June Squibb (Nebraska), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) and an overrated turn from Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels' The Butler) would be a surprise.
Long-Shots: The only possibilities of taking down one of the top 5 seem to come from Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) and an even darker horse in Scarlett Johansson (Her).
*** Remember to keep checking back for regular Oscar updates and have a safe and Happy New Year!